Thank you again for all the reviews! And this, finally, is the end of this enormous, sodding bastard of a story. Thanks for reading all the way through.
Chapter Fifty—Getting On For Dark
Draco leaned back in his chair and watched his mother eat the soup he'd brought her that morning. His father remained in the bedroom of his parents' quarters with his door shut, but he might do that, after all. Draco wanted to watch the fragile expressions that bloomed on his mother's face when his father wasn't close by.
She finished the soup with a last, long suck out of the spoon that she once would have disdained to display, and flushed as she put it down beside the bowl. "I lost my manners in Azkaban," she whispered, drying her fingers on the napkin Draco handed her, and dabbing at her lips.
Draco smiled at her. "You still have peculiarly nice ones."
Narcissa hesitated and blinked. Then she said, "You could have abandoned us several times over, Draco. Why do you continue to come? Why did you have Potter bring us here, wherever we are?" She looked around at the walls as if she thought they would sprout a plaque naming their location.
Draco smiled still, but hoped that his mother couldn't see how fragile the smile felt, all of a sudden, or the way that his lungs seemed to tighten. He knew that their haven was somewhere on an island to the north of England, but no more than that. He wasn't entirely sure Harry hadn't created the island. Certainly, when Draco called one of the brooms that waited in a back room to him and soared too far above it, he passed through a tingling shield and looked down to see nothing in the water, so at the very least it was powerfully warded.
"You're still my parents," he said quietly. "And I think a large part of what's wrong with you is due to Azkaban. Imprisoning you again solves nothing. Letting you go would…solve something for Father, but it's much more likely to get you killed."
His mother laid her hand over his. "My heart shrinks within me," she said, toying with his fingers and not meeting his eyes, "when I think about what I did to you, how I chose your father over you."
"I know why you did," Draco said quietly. "And I know what it means. There were times when, in my heart, I chose Potter over you."
Narcissa looked up, the quick flash of her glance wounded for a moment. Then she leaned back in her chair and shook her head. "I'm being ridiculous," she said, "to let that hurt me. Of course you did. Why would you not, when you could not believe that your only family would stand by you?"
"We're in love," Draco said, telling her as he had tried to tell her before and knew she had not listened to. "I've never cared for someone like I care for him."
Narcissa nodded. "And we lost the right to object to what you did when we chose Azkaban and each other, Draco. I know. I'm not well, but I do understand what it means to sacrifice everything for someone." Her gaze strayed to the closed bedroom door, and the sound of her swallow was audible this time.
"I hope," she said then, words so soft Draco more felt than heard them, "the consequences of your sacrifice fall on you less heavily than mine did on me."
There was so little Draco could think of to say in return to that, and he knew most of it would be unwelcome. In the end, he squeezed her hand and went back to Harry…
Who was sitting with a letter on his lap, and a smile-frown on his face that Draco could read without words. Their silent, lonely time together was almost at an end.
We know you probably had a good reason for disappearing. You had to convince everyone you were gone, or they'd continue to hound you. But now that the world is settling down again, won't you talk to us? I'll send you any news you want, to help you make the decision, so you and Malfoy can emerge from hiding.
That was all she wrote, all she needed to write. The longing came through. Harry swept his fingers across the parchment, and then looked up as Draco paused in the door to their bedroom. He no longer had his magic that would link to Draco's heartbeat and let him know when Draco was upset or angry or in danger, but he had something that was almost as good, and that was his perception of Draco, his knowledge of his footsteps and his scent and the swish of his hair. That wasn't magical, except with the ordinary, everyday magic of living.
"From your friends?" Draco touched the parchment on Harry's lap and then leaned his head on Harry's shoulder, closing his eyes as if he would burrow his way into Harry's skin, or at least shut out all his knowledge of the world beyond their bodies.
"Yes." Harry kissed his forehead and looped his arm around Draco's shoulders, turning back to the letter. "Hermione says that they're safe—well, she doesn't say it, but she implies it—and she says she'll give us any news we need to know that we really can go back."
Draco said nothing. Harry touched the back of his neck and whispered, "What?"
"Now that the war's done and they don't have as much to worry about," Draco mumbled, then stayed there until Harry tapped him gently on the back of the neck again. Draco sighed, and finished. "They might reprimand us about the way we live. They might decide you should leave me."
"My friends aren't stupid," Harry said, and checked the way Draco tried to indignantly lift his head and defend himself. "No, I know you didn't say that. But you implied it with the way you made your statements. They know I love you, and if you think they might bully me into living in the Muggle world or being with someone else…" He shook his head, wordless, and tangled his fingers deeper in Draco's hair. "Who could I be with? You're the only one who cares for me the way you do, and the only one who knows I lost my magic and doesn't care."
Draco opened one eye then. "If your friends really are as good as you say they are, they won't care that you lost your magic."
"I know," Harry said, and tugged on one shiny wisp of hair, just to make Draco yelp. "But what I meant was, they don't know right now. You're the first one to have had the knowledge, and you accepted it. You didn't deny it, you didn't act as though you wanted to shove me away and find a wizard lover."
"If you knew what you mean to me…" Draco's arms tightened around him. "You're the only one I can conceive loving me."
"Don't talk nonsense," Harry said sharply, because he couldn't help himself. "Anyone who knows you would have to see how lovely you are."
"But the trouble is, will they know me in the first place? Will they bother?" Draco kissed him when he tried to protest, long and slow, and curled up mostly in his lap. "You're the only one for me. You can also say that I'm the only one for you, though personally I think that's less likely than the other way around. But let's not spend time pretending that we're going to leave each other. We're not."
Harry closed his eyes and leaned his head against Draco's. He still missed the surety and confidence that had been his when the fire was his, but…
But still. It was wonderful to be able to lean on them in someone else, no matter how unfamiliar.
As you must have been able to assume from the way your owl didn't come wandering back to you, lost and dazed, yes, I'm safe and alive. I'm with Draco and his parents, and I hope that, time willing, his parents can heal from their insanity or their brokenness or whatever it is they really suffer from.
But there's something else you should know before you start sending me any sort of information. I don't think I'll ever be able to come back to the wizarding world and have it be the way it was before, and not just because I wanted to convince people that I'd left with the stag.
I lost my magic.
I used it to create powerful illusions that will plague people if they don't give Muggleborns fair trials or let pure-bloods off, but I don't know if any will ever come back to me. I've tried, and my wand feels like lifeless wood in my hands. Draco doesn't care. His parents won't get the chance. And I know that you and Ron will accept me.
But please, tell me about the things that you think might make it unsafe to come back when I don't have magic. I have the feeling the list is going to be long.
Harry, I'm so glad you're alive that it's difficult to say anything else right now. But first of all, of course Ron and I are glad to know you're alive. I think Ron took it harder than I did, because I remember living without magic and he doesn't, but I think you can have just as good and fulfilling a life as a Muggle as you can as a wizard.
Just not in the wizarding world.
Things are so tense here, even though our allies moved pretty rapidly to make sure some things went through. Clearwater was tried by the Wizengamot for casting the Imperius Curse on me, and found guilty. She'll go into holding cells until they build a prison to replace Azkaban—one that can never be as bad, particularly because Azkaban had special wards in the walls to make people feel subdued and depressed, and there's no one who remembers how to cast them now.
Lady Justice and the phoenix are yours? That's great, Harry! Just the kind of thing that will make people uncomfortable about injustice without forcing them to do things, and making them uncomfortable is better than making them angry.
So far, I think they're working. They've already followed one poor Auror that the Wizengamot tried to blame for the majority of the attacks and raids during the war, and it turns out that she was only doing things her superiors commanded her to do.
For now, they've had Judith Summers step down as Head of the Aurors, and Kingsley is acting Head. They're preparing to hold elections, while the Ministry threw together a committee of people to act in the Minister's place. I'm sure it won't surprise you to know that a few of our allies are on it, notably Smithson and Greta. Well, Greta isn't really on it, but she serves the people on it, and that means she hears all the gossip and can tell us about potential hurtful things before they happen.
They released the revolutionaries to return to their homes. I don't think they had any other choice, given that most of them claimed innocence and blamed everything on you. I wish they wouldn't, but most of them were overwhelmed when you took off, Harry. You don't know what it looked like from the outside.
I don't know if you can come back at all.
But please let me know where you are. We want to visit you. And George has asked to visit, too. He says he has new and improved plans for an even better machine. I don't know what he means, but I'm sure you will.
I'm so glad you're alive, Harry. We love you.
George leaned back and stared at the machine in front of him. This one only had two loops, and they were both made of iron, not the shining mixture of metals that had powered Harry's machine. Then again, it only needed two loops.
Yes, it does, Fred's voice said from the back of his mind. And it probably didn't need to be made at all, if you think about it.
"Shut it, you." George took a leisurely step back from the machine and used his wand to flip the sign on the joke shop to CLOSED. It wasn't a hardship to do that for a few hours, since they had few clients at this point in their post-revolution lives anyway. Most of the people who did come to them seemed to be the type who were courting the notoriety, and they backed away if George mentioned Fred. "We're going to test it."
We don't have the ability to control large amounts of magic like Harry does—did. It's going to be hard to channel magic through this.
George ignored him, because he had expressed the same doubts while George was building the machine, and still hadn't managed to dissuade him from it. He stroked the wand a time or two, and then cast the first spell that would channel magic into the loops and make their invention do what it was supposed to.
The fireball that sprouted from the machine and scooped them up was magnificent, more than two floors high, orange with a heart of black, and absolutely silent. Up until the point where it burned through the roof and then dumped them back into the smoldering wreckage, at least.
George lay blinking in the middle of the shop, with splinters and embers raining down on his face. He could feel Fred smugly congratulating himself for his lack of a body in the back of his head.
"What—happened?" George whispered. He coughed.
What indeed. I told you we couldn't control it.
George stumbled back to his feet and looked around the shop at the damage. Not that bad, actually. First, he would have to stop the fires that were burning around him before they got to some of the more expensive—and explosive—stock, but no, they had got away with less damage than they had any right to expect.
"Next time, we'll ask Harry," George said. He and Ron and Hermione were supposed to go for a visit on Saturday.
We will not.
"Oh, so you want something like this to happen again?"
Bickering with his twin as he repaired the shop was an old and familiar pastime, and it made George smile. The revolution had given him that much, at least.
From the Daily Prophet:
NEW PRISON TO REPLACE AZKABAN?
…Acting Head of Aurors Kingsley Shacklebolt denied, this morning, the rumors that the Ministry will build a new prison to replace Azkaban. Of course, he wears only one hat, and who knows what is moving in the background? Only our sources, and we make the best attempt to get the news to you, our faithful readers.
"We do need something bigger than the holding cells to contain prisoners like former Minister Clearwater, that's plain," he said, standing outside the Ministry and wearing the polite yet harassed expression of a man who doesn't like your correspondent and thinks he can conceal it. "But we've decided against a whole separate prison. And certainly we won't have one as far from the wizarding world in general as Azkaban was. It made it too easy for abuses to take place there, and for dragons to attack it."
Asked whether they would employ Dementors as guards, the Head Auror's harassed expression increased.
"We've fought for things to change," he said. "And some of our colleagues who went over to the revolution left because things hadn't changed far or fast enough since the Battle of Hogwarts for them. It would be stupid to alienate them again by building a prison that would cost us a great deal of money, and could be destroyed again at any point in the building process."
He might have said more, but we caught a glimpse of the Phoenix then, and were reminded of some of the other problems with building a prison…
Ron's voice was soft, Hermione noticed, and he cast one glance at Malfoy before he hugged Harry, as if to tell him not to get upset, it was only a hug. Malfoy watched them indulgently, only shaking his head when Harry looked at him in turn. Harry shrugged and grinned and hugged Ron back hard enough to make him wheeze, which Hermione knew was hard to do.
Then Harry stepped away from Ron and turned to her.
Hermione didn't think she could hold back her enthusiasm and her worry and her love, and she didn't try. She held Harry, and his eyes closed as though he was fighting back tears. Hermione knew that reaction. She laid her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes back. They stood there with their arms around each other, swaying.
Malfoy coughed and pulled them back to real life that way. "Would you like to see the inside of the building?"
It was a safe-mansion that Harry had come up with, really, Hermione noticed as Harry and Malfoy escorted them through it. The walls and floors were stone that varied in color from black to red to tan, but always seemed to have a thread of flame or warmth running through it, somewhere, no matter where Hermione let her hand rest. The rooms had wide walls and furniture that more often resembled the furniture in the Gryffindor common room than it didn't, and shining pools of water here and there. The gardens were bright with branches of trees, and flowers, and singing birds.
"You made this?" Hermione asked quietly, dropping back so that she could walk with Harry.
Harry nodded. He looked at Malfoy most of the time, Hermione realized, even though his eyes and smile would quickly dart back to her or Ron. She wondered if he even realized it.
"With your magic," Hermione said.
Harry seemed to hear the question she wasn't asking. He glanced at Hermione and raised his eyebrows. "Yes," he said. "I was that powerful. You don't need to think I wasn't."
"But…you seem to be adjusting," Hermione said. "And losing all that power like that, all at once, can't have been easy."
Harry bowed his head for a moment, and they walked along in silence. Hermione watched him, and wondered. Harry finally sighed and turned his head so that he was speaking directly to her, and his voice was mostly obscured by Malfoy's pointing out some wonder ahead to Ron. Hermione didn't pretend to understand the friendship Ron and Malfoy shared, but then, she thought Ron didn't understand it himself either, most of the time.
"I mourn it every second," he said. "But I have too much in the world to keep me from drowning in the mourning. Draco. You. The house, and the chance of a quiet life now that no one else in the world knows where I am. Ron. George," he added, with a faint grin, because Ron and Hermione and George had all Apparated to the house once given the coordinates, but George had immediately gone to study the construction of the house's walls and hadn't bothered to greet Harry yet.
"I wish you could talk to someone," Hermione said.
Harry's face washed with a smile that was like looking at the first rays of dawn. "I have people to talk to. But anyway, no Muggle therapist would believe me, and no Mind-Healer from the wizarding world could be trusted with the truth." He reached out and patted Hermione's shoulder. "I promise, I do still know what it means to be happy."
And with that, Hermione did have to be content, since she knew Harry was at least so, and perhaps more than that.
Draco froze beside Harry, staring into the distance. They sat on a pair of chairs outside the house, with the starry sky, gradually losing its sunset colors, looming ahead of them. Draco turned around and stared at Harry, cocking his head in wordless wonder.
Harry watched the sunset for another moment more, then looked back at him. His eyes were gentle, in a way that made Draco wince in spite of himself.
"I know you were a spy," Harry said quietly. "I always knew, I think. At the beginning, what other reason did you have to seek us out? But I announced my plans so openly, there was no way of telling it was you who was informing against me. It could have been someone else. And the most important things, like the machine and the dragons, I held too close to my chest to let anyone else know."
Draco shook his head. "But you're sitting there and taking it so much—better than I thought you would."
"Because I knew." Harry reached out and took his hand. Draco thought it unusually cold, but Harry didn't seem to think so, and anyway, Draco was probably still missing the warmth that came from sleeping beside Harry when he was still full of his flame. "I didn't think then that I would fall in love with you. But I did, and then you gave up the spying, and then you trusted yourself to me. Your pulling back from me or not trusting me enough to sleep with me, or to take care of your parents, would have been a much bigger betrayal."
Draco blinked, and struggled, and finally said, "I know you're not mad—among other things, I don't think you ever really were, and the magic's gone now—but that sounds mad, you know."
"As if I care what other people consider sane," Harry murmured, and pulled so that Draco stumbled from his chair into Harry's, and into Harry's lap. Sometimes his Auror training could take the place of magic. Harry kissed him, and Draco sucked greedily at the living warmth that wasn't fire in his mouth.
Harry pulled back, stroking his fingers through Draco's hair, and Draco tried to keep his eyes open through the feeling that caused him, which was hard. He struggled to stay attentive, and Harry gave him a little shake and a hum.
"I'll only say this once," Harry whispered, "so pay attention."
Draco nodded, although his eyes promptly tried to fall shut again. Harry hissed, and Draco blinked and focused on him.
"This," Harry said, and gestured at the house behind them. "That." He reached out to the sunset. "You." He touched Draco above the heart. "All of these—you aren't second best."
Draco swallowed. He could have asked Harry to elaborate, but he didn't need to. He touched Harry's knee instead, and then his throat, and then drew his wand and trailed it along his chest.
Harry didn't fear him. Harry smiled at him, and held no grudges, and not just endured but lived after the loss of his magic, and no one but Harry could have done that. Draco had thought he had fallen in love with Harry for his power, but no one else could have kept Draco loving him when the power was gone.
Harry leaned in and breathed gently on his ear, then whispered, "I chose this. And that makes this, all by itself, loads better than the fate the stag would have given me or that the Ministry planned for me."
And Draco leaned forwards and kissed him again, and Harry was bright and warm enough against him with no trace of magic, and behind them, the darkness came in.